For years, the ‘localisation' of agencies working with clients has been a given – but is this about to change? Sam Stanhope, Content Manager at GO!, explores the changes we’re seeing in location requirements, and the growth of Northern agencies.

There’s long been an unspoken bias that London is the best place to find your marketing agency. 

Take PR agencies, for example. It was once believed (and still is by some people) that London agencies were the best to achieve national coverage due to their proximity to journalists and news outlets. It may have held true at one point, but does it still apply in today’s post-pandemic world? We’re seeing location matter less and less, and with the growth of brands and agencies setting up shop up north, what does this mean for changing requirements?

Agency Location Requirements and the Rise of Remote Working 

We’ve only got to look at the past couple of years to realise that where we work isn’t as important as it used to be. Whole organisations moved to working remotely, connected through Zoom calls and Teams meetings. The use of tools such as Trello, Asana, Slack etc allow departments to keep track of tasks and collaborate on work. Even when in the office, many things are done ‘remotely’ over some tool or other. 

The capabilities of remote work and holding meetings online means that meeting face-to-face with people has become more of a luxury than a necessity. There’s also a benefit to not having to meet face-to-face: it saves both time and money (and who doesn’t like saving money?) This shift to remote working has affected everyone, brands and agencies alike.

In an article for Prolific North, Charlotte Boerescu-Kelly, Head of Marketing here at GO!, says “Where location used to be a non-negotiable requirement for many, office and headquarter locations have become ‘nice to haves.’ With many brands relocating or adjusting to working remotely, we’re starting to see brands get more flexible with location.”

So, with brands themselves having to move to remote working and/or relocating, are they becoming more receptive about dropping location as a factor when choosing a marketing agency? 

Read: A Needle in a Haystack - Things To Consider When Hiring An Agency

Does location matter?

According to Charlotte, “A nice side effect of [offices and headquarter locations becoming ‘nice to haves’] is that brands are getting a little braver with exploring options outside of the London bubble – and often, they’re pleasantly surprised by what they find.”

For a brand looking for an agency, casting your net further afield means that you can capture a wider pool of talent. The perfect agency might exist just outside of the radius you set yourself. Here at GO!, we have definitely seen an increase in appetite for great Northern agencies.

“As we’ve all learned to work and build relationships online, the opportunities for growth outside of London are infinite,” our CEO, Russell Oakley, writes in the Northern Agency Guide 2021. 

Surely strong communication and agency fit are far more important than proximity? There are, of course, always exceptions to the rule. Localised PR, for example, would preferably require people with a knowledge of the area. If your business or product are location-specific, a nearby agency might have the edge over a remote agency who doesn’t know the community so well. But if your products or service aren’t limited by area, then why should your agency?

David Prior, Editor of Prolific North says: "Does location matter anymore? It probably does if you're searching for eyebrow tweezers or a foot massager, but it needn't come into the equation if you're in the market for a new agency. Given the incredible range of agencies available now in every corner of the North - and believe me I've scoured them all for the latest edition of the Northern Agency Guide - there are perfect fits out there for brands wherever they may be physically based.

Nowadays, it would seem to me that brands would be putting themselves at a significant disadvantage by limiting their shortlist by location."

Read: What's So Hard About Finding The Right Marketing Agency?

Media city is just one area up north with a huge amount of investment for entertainment
MediaCityUK on the banks of Salford Quays

The Decentralisation of London for Marketing and Media

The growth of marketing and media productions in the North in particular have undoubtedly had an impact on agency growth. Huge investments have been made outside of London by corporations such as the BBC and Channel 4, with perhaps the best example of this being MediaCityUK in Salford, Greater Manchester. The BBC began plans to move a chunk of its operations up North back in the early 2000’s, part of its large-scale decentralisation from London, and the shift is continuing now.

Currently, there are approximately now 3,200 BBC staff at the facility, with programmes such as BBC Breakfast, Match of the Day and Blue Peter broadcast from Salford. After an initial financial dispute, ITV made the decision to move into MediaCityUK in 2010. As part of this, Coronation Street relocated from the Granada Studios and there are currently around 750 ITV employees now housed in Manchester. Though the main tenants are the BBC, ITV and the University of Salford, the spark of interest in the north as a media haven was lit.

Not to be left out, Channel 4 announced Leeds as the home of its headquarters back in 2019. Departments operating out of the HQ include the Channel 4 news hub, the creative department and the digital creative unit. 

So, while London is still a major player for creative and marketing talent, it’s not the only player anymore, and top talent is being spread wider than ever. 

Growth of Investment outside of the capital

The BBC and other production companies investing in the North can be seen as a snapshot of the wider picture. 

The government’s ‘Northern Powerhouse Strategy’ seeks to join up the North’s great towns, cities and counties, pooling their strengths and tackling major barriers to productivity to unleash the full economic potential of the North. 

In the government’s own report, it states that ‘if the Northern Powerhouse were a country, it would be amongst the biggest economies in Europe.’ So how are they planning to build this “powerhouse?” According to the report, they will do this by ‘investing in the North’s transport infrastructure,’ ‘raise education and skills levels,’ and ‘ensure the Northern Powerhouse is recognised worldwide for the trade and investment opportunities it offers.’

channel 4 has set up shop in leeds for its own shows and media
Channel 4's new Headquarters in Leeds. Credit: Channel 4

So, what does this mean for marketing agencies? You only need to have a quick scan of industry news sites to see that Northern agencies are expanding as a result of investment and winning big clients. 

Take Mediaworks, for example, who announced back in July that they were going to create almost 20 new jobs in their Leeds office after securing £1m of new business. Another Leeds-based agency, Modo25, got a six-figure investment from John McDonnell, with the view of expanding an ‘ambitious, on-going recruitment drive’ to bring over 40 jobs to Leeds and the surrounding area.’ But of course, in the current climate, where you do your job has changed quite drastically.

Download: Mutual Success: The Best of Brand-Agency Relationships

Finding your fit

The decision is ultimately yours to make. It’s perfectly fine to prefer working with someone close by and it certainly has its benefits. Meeting people face-to-face might be breath of fresh air, but remain open minded about not making location a limiting factor when considering your agency search.

If you’d like some free and impartial advice on what to consider when choosing an agency partner, including location, get in touch here and one of our team will be in touch.